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Alexis Maldonado v. Brian Coleman

March 31, 2011

ALEXIS MALDONADO
v.
BRIAN COLEMAN, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.

MEMORANDUM RE: PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

I.Introduction

Petitioner Alexis Maldonado filed a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising two grounds for relief. (ECF No. 1) This Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge L. Felipe Restrepo for a Report and Recommendation ("R & R") on the merits (ECF No. 2).

On August 16, 2010 Judge Restrepo filed his R & R, which recommended that the Petition be dismissed and that a certificate of appealability not issue. (ECF No. 11) On January 3, 2011, Petitioner, after having been granted an extension of time, timely filed objections to the R & R. (ECF No. 19) Included in his objections was a Motion for Leave of Court to Amend Writ of Habeas Corpus (the "Motion for Leave to Amend"). Upon independent and thorough review, and for the reasons stated below, the Court will adopt the R & R, deny the Motion for Leave to Amend, and dismiss the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.

II.Factual and Procedural Background

Petitioner was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County on August 12, 2004, of second degree murder, eight counts of robbery, 14 counts of criminal conspiracy, one count of theft, one count of receiving stolen property, two counts of simple assault, and two counts of possession of an instrument of crime following a bench trial before the Honorable John J. Rufe. On September 20, 2004, Petitioner was sentenced to three to five years imprisonment for the robbery and related charges and a consecutive life sentence for the second degree murder charge.

On direct appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied allowance of the appeal on July 11, 2006. Commonwealth v. Maldonado, 897 A.2d 519 (Pa. Super.) (table), allocatur denied, 902 A.2d 1240 (Pa. 2006) (table).

On April 20, 2009 Petitioner filed a habeas action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising two grounds for relief. The first ground alleged that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to explain to the trial judge that Petitioner could not be convicted of second degree murder unless, at the time of the shooting, he possessed the intent to commit a robbery. The second ground for relief alleged a due process violation and denial of fundamental fairness based on trial court error. Petitioner alleges that PCRA counsel should have been barred from withdrawing because he had not amended the PCRA action, had not raised claims requested by Petitioner and had not complied with the mandates of Commonwealth v. Finley, 976 A.2d 1202 (Pa. Super. 2009).

III.The Parties' Contentions

A. Summary of the R & R

In the R & R, Judge Restrepo recommended that Petitioner's habeas petition be denied and that a certificate of appealability not issue. Before addressing the merits, Judge Restrepo determined that, giving Petitioner every benefit of the doubt, the Petition was filed five days before the expiration of AEDPA's limitation period and was therefore considered timely. Moving on to the substantive issues, Judge Restrepo recommended that relief should be denied on the merits as to ground one, which alleged that Petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel. As to ground two, which alleged a due process violation and denial of fundamental fairness related to PCRA counsel's withdrawal, Judge Restrepo stated that relief for the harm alleged was not cognizable in a federal habeas action.

B. Maldonado's Objections

Petitioner's Objections to the R & R and related Motion for Leave to Amend were dated November 29, 2010, but were not filed with the Court until January 3, 2011. Under Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988), which was held by the Third Circuit to apply to a pro se prisoner's habeas petition,*fn1 documents mailed by pro se prisoners are considered filed at the time they are submitted to prison officials for mailing to the district court. Id. at 108. Therefore, the Objections were timely filed.

Petitioner objects to Judge Restrepo's finding that habeas relief should be denied on ground one on the merits. Petitioner simply states that he stands upon the allegations in his initial Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus as to ground one. In addition, Petitioner is seeking to amend his petition to include the eight "underlying issues, that PCRA counsel abandoned." Pet.'s Objections to R & R ¶ 6.

C. Government's Response to Maldonado's Request for Leave to Amend

The Government filed its Response in Opposition to Petitioner's Motion for Leave to Amend on January 10, 2011, requesting that the Motion be denied. (ECF No. 18) The Government stated six grounds for denying the Motion. First, the Government contends that Petitioner failed to properly plead, or even identify, his amended claims for relief and/or the facts supporting each new ground. Second, the Government asserts that Petitioner withdrew four of his eight original issues at the PCRA evidentiary hearing and conceded that three of the remaining four claims were without merit. Third, the Government contends that the Motion for Leave to Amend should be denied because it was filed outside the applicable one-year statute of limitations period. Fourth, the Government contends that the Motion should be denied because the amendment does not relate back to the claims in the original Petition. ...


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